Government under mounting pressure over disability royal commission appointees
Thursday, 18th April 2019 at 5:36 pm
The Morrison government is standing by its appointees to the disability royal commission, despite Labor pledging to review two of the commissioners over conflicts of interest.
Pressure is mounting on John Ryan and Barbara Bennett to step down from the commission over their previous roles in departments likely to come under significant scrutiny during the inquiry.
Almost 1,500 people from more than 110 organisations have signed a petition calling on Ryan and Bennett to step down to protect the integrity of the commission, and Labor this week said it would address these concerns if elected.
Labor MP Linda Burney and Senator Carol Brown said in a joint statement it took the views of people with disability and disability advocates very seriously.
“A Shorten Labor government will review the appointment of the royal commissioners [who] questions have been raised about, in consultation with people with disability and advocates,” they said.
“It is essential that people with disability have full confidence in the royal commission.”
But the Coalition is not budging on the appointments. Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher told Pro Bono News the government stood by its commissioners.
“The two individuals in question have both been recognised for their significant contribution in their fields, as evidenced by their receipt of the Public Service Medal and Member of the Order of Australia,” Fletcher said.
“Any suggestions as to the validity of their appointment is without any foundation whatsoever.”
He said as with any royal commission, appointees will be expected to declare any real or apparent conflicts so that they can be effectively managed throughout the inquiry.
— PWD Australia (PWDA) (@PWDAustralia) April 11, 2019
Ryan held a senior role at the NSW Department of Family and Community Services, while Bennett was formerly deputy secretary of the families and communities branch of the Department of Social Services.
Advocates say people with disability are no longer comfortable participating in the royal commission because of Bennett’s and Ryan’s roles in the inquiry.
They say while no one suggested Bennett or Ryan were involved in perpetrating abuse against people with disability, the fact they were senior figures within organisations under the spotlight is a barrier for people to speak out.
Matthew Bowden, co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, said he was concerned the Coalition was ignoring the voices of the disability community.
But he said he was pleased with Labor’s pledge to review the appointments if it won office.
“The conflicts of interest of these two former public servants can only be managed by them stepping down,” Bowden told Pro Bono News.
“Our members are telling us that they will not and cannot approach a royal commission that is so closely aligned with the very government institutions that perpetrated the violence against them.”
He said it was vital the commission had clear and public processes for managing all conflicts of interest that could arise during the inquiry.